Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Latvian Mittens--An Amazing Library For Knitters

If you knit mittens (or socks, or do any kind of knit colorwork) you need to take a look at Latvian Mittens. You could say I found these in Rebecca's Pocket. (In fact, the mittens you would find in THIS Rebecca's pocket right now are a pretty Scandinavian design I got from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Around. But I digress.) Here's what the 2006 Rega Summit Web site says about the mittens:

Book Cover: Latvian Mittens
What will 9,000 hands have in common during the NATO Summit in Riga this November? 4,500 pairs of traditional hand-made Latvian mittens! That's what the NATO Summit Latvia Task Force has prepared for Summit guests. The mittens were specially knitted by hundreds of women and men around the country ranging in age from 30 to 86. Each pair features a unique design, utilizing a wide variety of traditional colors, patterns and symbols. For Latvians, mittens are much more than a way to warm your hands. Every ethnographic Latvian mitten tells a story, marks an anniversary and represents a specific region in Latvia (Vidzeme, Zemgale, Latgale and Kurzeme.) Some mitten designs are specially intended for weddings or other special events. There is even a rich tradition of folkloric etiquette associated with the wearing, storing and displaying of mittens.

Latvian mittens have been a hot issue for me since I first saw Lizbeth Upitis' Latvian Mittens: Traditional Designs & Techniques in 1982. It was in English and Latvian, and it didn't stay in print long. I eventually got a copy, and it is everything I like in a knitting book--lots of real mittens knitted by real people to keep warm and to delight. No "use my pricey yarn and pattern." The book cover here is a 1997 reprint from Schoolhouse Press (Elizabeth Zimmermann's publishing company), with a snazzy new cover, more mittens, and more photos.

The Riga NATO Summit site has lots of mittens you can view on-line, but I am hard-core, and I usually make my own charts from photographs, so I decided I needed to download the mitten archive, a 200 MB .rar file. (After all, I have all that data backup and storage capability now.) Of course, when I got it downloaded, I had no way to expand the .rar compression format. That's why I spent a couple of hours investigating rar and unrar resources. As usual, I have links.

  • WinRAR is the Windows compress/uncompress utility for this format. You have to pay for it, but you can try before you buy. Of course, I don't do Windows, so I moved on.
  • RAR for Linux 3.3.0 Beta 3 from Tucows. Shareware. I never got it running.
  • unRAR 2.71 from Tucows. Freeware, just the uncompression (unrar) utility, not the compression (rar)one. I never got this running either, but I came a little closer.
  • I finally figured out that I didn't have the "non-free" libraries in my /etc/apt/sources.list (I just installed Debian Sarge on this hard drive a couple of weeks ago, with much whining.) I did that, and was able to "apt-get install" the Debian rar and unrar programs.

Once I unrar-ed the archive, I found seven directories with 5255 .jpg files, all of mittens. Heaven! They are clear enough to use as charts, and the color and variety are wonderful. They use lots of interesting traditional patterns with traditional meanings. At NATO's request, however, one common design was omitted. The NATO mittens were certified "swastika-free."

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